Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Such Things History Can Turn

It was a time when the Revolution was not going well for the colonists. Lord Dunmore was moving British troops into Chesapeake and had recently taken Great Bridge, the major trade route between eastern North Carolina and Virginia and was poised to invade North Carolina. News traveled slowly, but before much time passed even the residents on the isolated regions of the upper Outer Banks had heard that the British were, in fact, coming.

Tales of pillage abounded. Near present day Corolla, Betsy Dowdy, a young teen, heard that Dunmore not only burned farms and looted, but that his men even killed horses. She could not abide the thought that the British might come in and kill the tame Banker horses that her family and friends owned, and perhaps even those in the wild herds.

There were no American troops between Dunmore and tidal North Carolina. There was no reason to believe that the patriot militia garrisoned to the south west even knew of the fall of Great Bridge.

Though it was late in the fall and the militia was many miles away, Betsy Dowdy slipped out of her home on the Outer Banks to catch her favorite mare. They forded the Sound and rode hard to the mainland. In the darkness, the young teenager rode her Corolla mare 51 miles overnight to alert the militia to the need to quickly move north to intercept the British.

The invasion of North Carolina failed because a powerless young girl stood up to the most powerful nation on earth in order to save her Corolla horses.

This is Croatoan, a wild Corolla stallion who now graces my pastures. It is highly likely that his ancestors were among those who inspired Betsy Dowdy to make her all night ride. The spirit of those horses lives on in him and the spirit of Betsy Dowdy lives on in the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Delaware Horse Expo

Swimmer and my niece

Horse Expo Pictures

Tradewind and Emily and Secotan and her owner Amanda

Delaware Expo Pictures

Holland, my super Shackleford

Expo Pictures

Emily and Tradewind

Delaware Horse Expo Pictures

Here is a shot of my father, my niece and Swimmer

If We Wish Tomorrow To Be Better Than Yesterday..

then we must understand that small is better than large, simple is better than ornate, old is better than new, and that long burning coals are warmer than flashes in the pan.

This Corolla foal was born in the wild on March 21 of this year. She brings hope that tomorrow can be better than yesterday for the wild horses of Corolla.

Delaware Exposure

The weather changed when we woke up in Delaware for the Delaware Horse Expo over the weekend. It was sunny, cold, and windy. So windy that some of the girls had to take off their hats for the parade of breeds. Our horses were quite a hit among those in attendance. Inside the exhibit area we had a booth set up that focused on the Corollas that gave my family and my riders a great opportunity to educate people about the existence of, and the threat to the existence of, the Corollas.

We did a clinic that demonstrated the steps that we go through in taming a wild horse. Swimmer was a good demo horse. She was not quite ready to be mounted when we concluded the clinic. Jacob, Jordan, and Emily did first rate jobs as demonstrators of natural horsemanship. We sold several copies of my book and the training DVD that we produced, a portion of which will be donated to our regional USERL.

The regional mustang association was well represented by people who love and care for wild horses. Talking with these BLM owners reinforced my belief that many of them have the background and understanding to make perfect participants in the off site breeding program.

All too often when speaking to owners of modern breeds about wild horses, kids training them, the need for preservation of rare strains, and the carrying capacity of Spanish mustangs, the conversation ends with a look on the other person's face that simply yes , "Well, yes, but--".

When speaking to wild horse owners the conversation ends with a look that simply says "Yes."

This is a shot of Swimmer and my 4 year old niece who led her in the parade of breeds.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keep on the Sunny Side of Life

Maybe crossing Shacklfords and Corollas will be the best thing that could happen to the remaining Bankers. This is a shot of Persa during her earliest saddling. She is tough, well gaited and moderately insane. She is smaller and less conditioned than Holland but she recently gaited along at over 7 mph for 12 miles with me on her back. Right now I am the only one who rides her because she has a past that included putting people on the ground in the most forceful of manners.

So, if I put Tradewind's mind in her body I will have a super star Banker as a result of this Shackleford/Corolla cross. Compared to the Corollas, the Shacklefords are as genetically diverse as a meeting of the UN Security Council. The Shacklefords have four, count them, four lines of mitochondrial DNA left.

Bottom line is that we have none of these horses to be wasted.

A Big Change In Directions

From its inception the off site breeding program has required that only pure Corolla mares be bred to pure Corolla stallions. However, in order to insure sufficient genetic diversity it is necessary to include some Shackleford horses into the mix. The Shacklefords roam free on an island at the bottom of the Outer Banks. They are closer related to the Corollas, who live wild on the upper end of the Outer Banks, than any herd that has been subject to genetic testing. They clearly descended from the same Spanish Colonial stock as did the Corollas. They are strait. They have always been included in the Banker strain and have been so designated by both the HOA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They have been successfully crossed with each other for many years in domestic settings.

I intended to make some of these crosses myself, but not for use in the off site breeding program. I intended to only breed Corolla to Corolla. After consultation with several people whose opinion I respect and who are dedicated to preserving the Corollas, I have decided to begin Shackleford/Corolla breeding this spring. One of the long term goals of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund is to place some Shackleford Horses among the wild herd in Corolla. In short, what we will be doing in captivity will one day occur in the wild.

I have one Shackleford stallion, Wanchese, pictured above in some of his first days with a saddle on him. He is gaited, fast, and tough. Many consider him to be the prettiest horse in the lot. He is small. His father is Dionysis, long the alpha stallion on Shackleford Island, and he is the uncle of my great Shackleford gelding, Holland.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Our Fastest Horse?


Hard to believe but for a 50 mile ride I think that it would be Tradewind, the wild Corolla stallion that was captured becuse he had foundered to the point that he walked on the side of his hoof. Pete Ramey style hoof trimming, low sugar diet, and hundreds of miles in the woods have made him 100% sound. In a few more weeks I will breed him to a Shackleford mare and two Corollas.

At the conclusion of future posts you may see a horse's name with a number beside it. That will be the number of hours that I rode a given horse for that week. It is easier for me to keep all of my records in the same place.
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Better Horse Than I Deserve


In my writings, clinics, and training programs I stress the importance of spending hours on end just being with one's horse in the pasture. Those hours were the key to gaining the trust not only of my wild mustangs but also of rough young domestic horses like Comet. The unfortunate truth is that I do not have as much time as I once did to simply stand beside my horses and rub their necks as they graze.

Ta Sunka Witco has received nearly no such attention, yet I suspect that I have ridden him in the woods around 1000 miles and he has rarely done anythng but exactly what I have asked of him. Over downed trees, over ditches, through swamps, picking our way through cut over, he has always been willing. He is never difficult to catch and is perfectly reliable cantering down woods paths in pitch darkness.

I plan to start giving him more contact time and stregthen our bond. That bond is already pretty strong and I can claim no credit for that. His first colts will be coming this spring and I hope that each will be at least half the horse that he is.

My next goal for him is to ride him 150 miles in less than 72 hours.
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Delaware Horse Expo

Saturday March 27, several of my young riders and I will carry three Corollas and one Shackleford to the Delaware Horse Expo which will be held at the Delaware State Fairgrounds. In addition to having a booth set up on the Corollas we will participate in the parade of breeds and will do a clinic on taming wild horses.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Not All of My Stallions Are Bankers

This is my stallion, Ta Sunka Witco,who is registered with the SMR, HOA, and AIHR. His grandfather was Choctaw Sundance on his father's side and goes back to yellow Fox on his mother's side. He is not gaited but he is very smooth trotting and even more so while loping. He is a great horse for 50 miles in a day

Assisted Living

My granddaughter is just past two years old. Like her mother, she is excessively brilliant. Her linguistic skills greatly exceed anything could be imagined for her age.

It is not just that her vocabulary is so large,, it is that at such a young age she has already learned to manipulate me by telling me exactly what I want to hear.

Granpa Steve. I waked up!
Granpa Steve. I will find your boots!
Granpa Steve. I will get you some socks!
Granpa Steve. Do you have me Choc-o-lat?
Granpa Steve. I made your coffee! (She really did not make it. She was trying to take credit for Beth's handiwork.)

And most importantly of all:
Granpa Steve. I want to see horses!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Im Praying For ur Butt

Just before I set out for what I hoped to be a 100 mile ride I received an e mail from one of my little riders that was exactly as set out in the title above. The is the result of a confluence of:
1. Deeply held and sincere religious belief,
2. Concern that my saddle sores might actually kill me,and
3. The stylistic influence of texting on grammar and spelling.

I did appreciate the sentiment. In this case it really was the thought that counted.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh Mary Don't You Weep, Don't You Moan

Yesterday legislation was introduced in Congress that is designed to insure that a large enough herd is allowed to remain in the wild at Corolla to insure genetic stability. This is the most important thing to happen to benefit the wild horses of Corolla since the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was established.

Of course, it is a long way between having a bill introduced and having it signed into law. We are not yet to the Promised Land but with the introduction of this bill Pharaoh's army got drowned.

Reading and Thinking at the Same Time

Lest any readers be particularly obtuse I hope that it is clear that Valor is not for sale and that was not the meaning of the previous post entitled "For Sale." For those who took such a meaning please go drink three cups of coffee and read it again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For Sale

With spring time here and the horses about to loose their winter coats, it is time to take new pictures and revise our web site. We will be placing a different emphasis on our product, on precisely what it is that we sell.

I have come to realize that what we sell with our horses and with our riding programs is new lives. For those lives are already great, the horses make them even better. For those who hurt the horses heal. For those who are weak the horses strengthen. For those whose minds are tired the horses give rest.

When Emily came to ride she was a happy, wonderful little girl. She did not need healing, but a little touch of confidence would have made her life even better. She worked hard to overcome her fear after taking a surprise fall in the woods.

These two shots were taken last night. That is Valor that she is getting on. Until a few days ago Valor had never even had a blanket on her back. Until last night she had never had a bit in her mouth.

Until last night she had never had anyone on her back, not even a happy, confident little girl. Now she has.

I am proud of Emily. I am proud of Valor and, yes I admit it, I am proud of myself this morning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Another Reason to Change

I have encouraged conventional riding programs to take a look at our program and see if there are elements in it that could be incorporated to put some of the fun back in riding and to give people the opportunity to really understand horses.

Lydia recently made me a loaf of crackling bread. Now, how many of you instructors in the normal "ride around the ring in a circle" programs have ever had a student make you a loaf of crackling bread? Crackling bread is the strongest evidence of a program with happy students.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Shots of Manteo

I received a request to post a picture of Manteo. The most recent of these is from October of 2008. We will be doing a lot more photography as spring arrives. Wanchese is perhaps the prettiest horse on the farm. He is petite. He is a Shackleford and I plan to breed him to Swimmer at some point in the future but not until we have produced more pure Corollas in the off site breeding program.

They Look Smaller Up Close

In a previous comment Dianne raised a few points concerning the size of the wild horses of Corolla. One of the points is easy to address. There definitely is enough habitat for a herd of 150 healthy horses in the 4 wheel drive area. The other questions touch on the issue of the size of the individual horses in the wild. I will agree that the horses are, on average, shorter than they were when they were while feasting on the fertilized vegetation outside of the 4-wheel drive area some 25 years ago. Secondly, in my limited observation it appears that prenatal nutrition has a greater impact on horse size than post natal nutrition. (Weanlings who are raised in captivity do not seem to reach the size of those born in captivity.)

The herd manager, Wesley Stallings, is a meticulous recorder of pictures and information on the wild herd and his photos and observations will be of more value than my observation of the herd, which only occurs several times each year. However, my observations lead me to the conclusion that there is a type of Corolla wild horse that looks more like the smaller horses of Shackleford. I will call them the Red Feather type. The Red Feather type seems to produce a more successful and more aggressive stallion than the larger Croatoan type.

As a long time volunteer with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund told me, "Those mean little stallions take a lot of the mares."

I also agree that the domestic Bankers produced by Dale Burrows were larger than the wild herd. It is my understanding that he often bred stock that contained a mixture of Corolla and Shackleford blood. I do not understand genetics, but I can see and it is obvious to my eyes that when a Corolla stallion is bred to a non Corolla mare the resulting foal is in nearly every case significantly larger than one would expect from simply looking at the height of the parents. This is true whether the mother is a registered Appaloosa, a BLM, or a grade Quarter horse. It has been suggested by those with experience in the matter that breeding a thirteen hand Corolla to a Thirteen hand Corolla will likely produce a thirteen hand foal, but that breeding a thirteen hand Corolla to a 12.2 Shackleford will often result in offspring around fourteen hands.

Lastly, for those who think that the wild herd members are much smaller than they were on average when viewed twenty years ago, I can only say, put a stick on it. From a distance the wild horses invariably look larger than they are, especially when framed by the low level brush and shrubs that make up much of the vegetation of the 4-wheel drive area. We have been surprised every single time we first put a measuring stick on a captured wild Corolla. Often people with life long horse experience over estimate the horses height by a full hand.

Some of the wild Corollas are larger and the great thing about them is that they maintain Spanish type although they are taller. (This is not the norm for Spanish horses. Unfortunately, the taller they are the less typier they tend to be). The mare pictured above is the tallest mare that I have personally seen in the wild. Today she will join my herd and will become part of the off site breeding program.

I have no interest in recklessly breeding horses to simply make them larger. For example, I will not breeder her to our largest stallion, Croatoan. Instead I will breed her to Manteo, who has even more of a classic Spanish type than does the mare.
Someday I hope to breed this mare to my little Shackleford stallion, but not yet.

The mare has been known as Swimmer, but at 4:00 pm today she will become Betsy Dowdy. Perhaps in the next post I will tell you a bit about the original Betsy Dowdy who was a 16 year old girl that I would have loved to have had in our riding program. The girl was tough.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wild and Free--In the Bahamas?

Recently the question has arisen concerning placing some Corollas in the Caribbean in order to insure survival of the strain. The idea has been floated by people genuinely interested in preserving the horses.

However, I would discourage such an effort. It is true that the Corollas are fighting for every inch of land necessary for their survival in the wild. It is true that their biggest enemy is further development of their last enclave in the northern Outer Banks. It is true that the management agreement entered into years ago with various governmental bureaucracies would require so few horses to remain in the wild that genetic collapse would be assured.

With all of that said, I am optimistic that a herd of wild Corollas will be on the Outer Banks for my great grand children to see long after I am gone. I do not think such belief to be wholly unrealistic.

I base my hope on the following:

Karen McCalpin, executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund is absolutely dedicated, immensely talented, and, most importantly, tough as an old hickory tree. Her small staff shares her zeal and dedication.

The wild herd draws millions of tourist dollars to the Outer Banks every year. That drawing power translates into political support. The question will remain whether that economically based political support can trump the political power of the developers who would pave more, build more, and bulldoze more until there was no room left for the horses. At this moment my money is on those who live continually on tourism instead of the one shot, get rich quick plans of developers.

The Shacklefords have made it to the promised land and the threat that they faced was every bit as grave as that faced by the Corollas today.

The problem with relocation of the herd to any other place is that it would give the economic opponents of the horses a perfect hand to play. They could claim that they not only are not destroying the horses, but instead are helping to provide the only realistic way to save them which is to move them out to a new reservation where they could live happily as long as the sun rises and the waters flow. (Such assurances cause every non-white chromosome in my body to shudder. History is wracked with inconvenient truths.)

Lastly, I must admit that I simply have faith that these horses will be saved. They are older than any trees on the Outer Banks. They are survivors. Years ago I took a peak at the last part of the Bible to see how the story would end. Turns out that the good guys do win in the end.

But I am not Polly Anna. I have grave concerns about the future of the off site breeding program. This spring I will breed four pure Corolla mares to several different Corolla stallions. One of those yet to be conceived foals will be going to a breed preservationist in Tennessee but the others have yet to be claimed. I recently had two Corolla mares fall into my hands. We are in the process of fencing in about twenty acres of mixed hardwood forest which will provide a tremendous amount of forage for my herd in the spring and summer and will greatly decrease the amount that I spend on hay, but feed costs will remain oppressive.

I was recently asked in an interview "What funds the off site breeding program?" The question caught me so off guard that honesty over came diplomacy and I listened in surprise as my mouth blurted out, "My damn back pocket!"

Which brings me to my last reasons to be optimistic about the future of the herd. My little riders love the fact that they are part of the effort to save these horses. I strongly suspect that I have a future Karen McCalpin or two amongst my riders. And surely, surely somewhere out there are a few fifty year old men who have come to realize that they have never lived up to their potential, that they are facing an old age filled with too many regrets and too few accomplishments, but that it is not too late to make a mark in the world by saving these horses. Some of them might even be rich.

So, that is why my little riders and I work so hard to keep these horses in the public eye. We are glad to be part of something bigger than we are. We are not above doing stunts to draw attention to these horses, as everyone who saw the last Christmas Parade can attest. We ride them fifty miles in a day, not because it is fun to do so, but because we draw attention to the horses by doing so.

This Friday I plan to ride 100 Hundred Miles in less than 24 hours accompanied by Emily and Lydia on strings of four horses each, 9 of whom will be either Corollas or Shacklefords. I must admit that it causes my faith to waver a bit. One can look through the entire Bible without finding a comforting word about saddle sores.